I never put much thought into the philosophy of Bruce Lee (or Bruce Lee in general, I’m ashamed to say I’ve never seen Enter the Dragon, but am about to change that), until I read an article in The Unbounded Spirit this week. It discusses the wisdom of the martial arts master, the philosophies that he espoused throughout interviews and film scenes from his prolific career. The first idea presented: “be like water.”
Our quest across Southeast Asia has been intentionally replete with water energy. We have experience something akin to spiritual transformation in both the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea. We have swam in innumerable lakes and rivers, from the jade green waters of northern Vietnam to Cambodia’s Tonle Sap and on up the mighty Mekong. And through it all, we are always hunting for waterfalls. This corner of the globe is teeming with them, and renting a motorbike to drive to as many waterfalls as we can fit in a day is commonplace in our current journey across Asia. When we reach them, we watch as the water flows forth into a chasm of nothingness, and we bask in the wind that erupts as that water crashes into the deep emerald pools below. We climb rock-faces and vines up each tier, we bathe in the cool water, we let the pounding falls massage our tired bodies and we always make a point to meditate before the sacred mist of each and every one.
So when I read the article on Lee’s philosophy and he first advises to “be like water because it is soft, resilient, and formless. It can never be snapped,” I immediately brought this lesson into the next waterfall I saw. The next day at Katieng Waterfall in Ratanakiri Province of northeastern Cambodia, I paid special attention to the water’s journey down a peaceful river, swiftly swinging side to side around protruding boulders and outstretched tree branches from fallen trees, observed as the water rocketed towards an unforeseen precipice and tumbled to the pools that lie in wait below, filling up with every fallen drop and carrying downstream.
“Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless, like water. Now, you put water into a cup it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle, you put water in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow, or it can crash…be water my friend.”
The water does not care whether it is drifting peacefully or barrelling into unseen depths. If we can train our minds to be like water, then no matter what unexpected circumstances come our way, no matter what obstacles we face and not matter how many times we may feel we are in an uncontrollable free-fall through life, we will maintain the resilience and flexibility to overcome adversity.
In my current journey of strengthening my meditative practice, inculcating the virtues of patience and acceptance into my life and my work, these wise words (from a pretty badass source) remind me to learn from each waterfall we visit, each time drawing from that energy and flowing through life. Formless, adaptable to any situation, flowing, crashing, becoming, being.
This is the sign of a Self that is in tune with the good of the Universe. A sign of a being free of the tumult of the egoic mind. This is the real Self, and it is waiting for all of us once we are ready to let go and flow into it.
“In life, what more can you ask for than to be real? To fulfill one’s potential instead of wasting energy on [attempting to] actualize one’s dissipating image, which is not real and an expenditure of one’s vital energy. We have great work ahead of us, and it needs devotion and much, much energy. To grow, to discover, we need involvement, which is something I experience every day — sometimes good, sometimes frustrating. No matter what, you must let your inner light guide you out of the darkness.”
Thanks Master Lee.
*This blog was written to an unexpected and unplanned soundtrack of Gregory Porter’s “Liquid Spirit” that came on poolside, and lakeside, here at our guesthouse in Ban Lung, Cambodia. Synchronicity.